Thursday, 17 March 2016

On celebrating and learning languages.

Today is Saint Patrick's Day. Facebook wishes me a Happy Saint Patrick's Day and invites me to post something about it. Patrick is one of the few saints whose day is known about and remembered by all sorts of people who have never in their lives taken any kind of interest in saints. And it's a relatively recent thing. Back in my student days, indeed more recently, just 25 years ago, you simply did not see hoards of people wearing green and sporting huge leprechaun hats on March 17th. And I'm pretty sure that there was a huge Irish diaspora back then. The Irish diaspora is not a recent thing. No, somewhere along the way, somebody decided that there was profit to be made out of promoting the celebration of Saint Patrick on his day. 

Here is a cartoon I "borrowed" from someone else's post. 

And here is a link to a number of interesting facts about Saint Patrick, his day and the Irish.  I was interested to read in the linked article that despite all Irish schoolchildren learning to speak Irish at school, the number of people who use the language in their everyday lives is in decline. It's a problem almost all the minority languages have. You can legislate as much as you like about the language being used in the classroom, and even in the workplace in some instances, but you can't make people use it at home, on the bus, in the pub, saying sweet nothings to their sweetheart or cooing over their beautiful baby. It doesn't work that way. 

And I do agree that it can be a cultural loss and we almost certainly need to preserve the culture in some way. However, I am not sure that putting all the road signs in the minority language and making announcements in concert halls only in the minority language (this happens in the big concert hall in Vigo) is the way to do it. 

Here's a link to an article about the need to preserve minority languages.  Mind you, while I don't need convincing that Professor Antonella Sorace is right about the importance of learning other languages, I am afraid that teaching schoolchildren Gaelic, Gallego, Sardinian, Catalan or whatever will only slow down the disappearance of those languages and won't necessarily make those children use the language all the time. Teach them useful languages! 

In the meantime, let's keep on learning languages, any languages, and stave off the dementia as long as possible.

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